Sunday 31 May 2009

In My Liverpool Home

Having lived in Scousely for nearly ten years, it is always a pleasure to go back, particularly when the attraction of drinking in one of the finest boozing cities in England is enhanced by seeing old friends. My mate John emigrated to Australia nine years ago and when he comes "home", we always get together along with another mate Mike. We worked together many moons ago and the attraction of a reunion and chewing over old times never wanes. Along to act as referee was the lovely E, who knows all of us of old.

We met in the Doctor Duncan, a Cains tied house which was rather quiet, being one of the few pubs that didn't have the FA Cup Final (featuring Everton) on. Cain's Mild was cool, creamy and moreish and for me, easily the best beer of the day. Mike had the bitter, E had the IPA and both were pronounced good and John surprised us all (he's a Toohey's New man now) by ordering bitter too, reminding us all of the countless pints of Higsons we consumed back in the day.

Now I could go on about this beer and that, but I won't. It wasn't about the beer. We moved next to the re-opened Vernon Arms watching Liverpudlians support Chelsea and drinking beer from an old pal of mine, Mike McGinley of Betwixt Brewery which I will mention. Betwixt Sunlight was pale and golden with a delicious biscuity nose, but a lot too heavy on the crystal malt and light on the hop to demand another. Amid searing reminiscences, bickering, nostalgia and raucous laughter, we moved on to Rigby's for Manx beers, The Lady of Mann for more Manx beers, The Lion for very tasteless Youngs and the final stop at the Ship and Mitre where Lees, Paulaner, Veltins and other stuff was drunk. Oh and I had a couple of pints of Hoegaarden too, possibly in the Vernon Arms.

We tottered out of there very much the worse for wear and back to Lime St for our train. I had hiccups all the way back to Manchester and we were both starving, food having been overlooked. Today I had a hell of a hangover which is still lingering. As I said, it wasn't about the beer.

Saturday 30 May 2009

Hail to the Hop

Hops are a most essential part of beer and German brewers in particular are keen to ensure that only the finest hops of their required variety are used. Unfortunately, a giant hail and wind storm hit both the Tettnang and Hallertau crop last week, devastating according to some reports, around 25% of the new growth in the Bodensee area. In some instances hop bines were completely stripped of their leaves and shoots. In the worst cases only the wire remains.

It is unlikely that hop crops will reach long-term averages for the Hallertau and Tettnang after the damaging storm. The total effect to the German crop could be a loss of 15% or close to 5000 metric tons. Nonetheless, hop merchant John I Haas is reporting that they do not predict another hop shortage for crop 2009 at this point.

I recall similar bad weather at the end of May a few years ago when I was in Munich. I'm keeping clear of Bavaria during that time.

Friday 29 May 2009

Who's Top Dog in the Pub Game?

According to my friends at the Morning Advertiser it is none other than Tim Martin of JDW. He leads a glittering cast of the great and good, knocking Giles Thorley of Punch off the number one spot. The reason Timbo is up there at the top? "When he talks, people invariably listen and he remains a precious flag-waver and talker-up of pubs and beer."

CAMRA's Mike Benner pops in at 29, up from 42, which seems to give the lie to any thought of a decline in CAMRA's influence and Paul Nunny of Cask Marque is up a couple of places too, reflecting perhaps, the rise in cask beer's prominence.

Nice also to see the Manchester Family Brewers (Lees, Robinson Hydes, Holt ) getting a joint mention at number 43.

The MA story is here.

Thursday 28 May 2009

We're Dead Nice We Are

Remember how Parliament found that PubCos were screwing their licensees. Seems they have got it wrong. Enterprise Inns have surveyed all their licensees and found that only 5% have a bad relationship with them.

Tough looking Ted Tuppin, the main man for Enterprise said ""Clearly, an in house survey does not carry the same weight as an independent review, but we will provide the full set of responses, on a pub by pub basis, so that the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) can validate the answers should they so wish."

There's the key. They know who said what. You wouldn't want Ted round at your door having a "quiet word" would you?

Full stories in the ever reliable MA and Publican

Tuesday 26 May 2009

Return to Flavour

I was entirely knackered on Friday on my return home, but after a few hours kip, I was fit enough to pick E up from the station. We went to the Angel to talk over our respective weeks. Catching up is always better over a pint is it not? Two beers on offer. Lancaster Blonde which was a little sweet, but very drinkable after Efes - and Mallinson's TR7 which was pale, easy drinking, with a very pronounced hop nose.

A National Winter Ales Fest meeting meant a trip to Manchester on Saturday, so I kicked off with the reliable Copper Dragon Golden Pippin. Later in Micro Bar, more TR7 followed by a bottle of Brew Dog's 77 - described as an "artisanal rebel pilsner" - which was hoppy and rather ale like really. I've said it before, but this really is a delightful little bar and well worth going to.

Our final stop at the Marble Arch gave me three more beers with more than a nod to excellence. First up Ashford New World Brown from Thornbridge which did exceed my expectations with a lingering hoppy, bitter finish in a very brown body. (You couldn't get them under the Trades Description Act.) Another Thornbridge beer, Kipling, followed which was again in top form. It was nice to see such a hyped up brewery delivering the goods, which is a compliment, not a swipe. One final beer completed a beery day. On E's recommendation, back to basics with a superb pint of Manchester Bitter. We left overbeered. It was good to be home.

Why is the desire for a curry so overwhelming when you've had a few?

Three Things About Turkish Drink

Thanks for the kind messages about my hols. I can assure my more sensitive readers that getting my kit off was kept to a bare minimum!

On the way to our hotel we stopped at a Karvanserai for a drink - well I guess the driver gets a kick back for bringing his prisoners there. Efes Pils was our first holiday drink and it wasn't that bad. Quite full bodied, not too gassy and with a slight hop tickle, it was drinkable stuff. Our hotel did Tuborg Green Label, though it was sold as "Troy Pilsner". I know, as the kegs were easy to check. This was frankly crap. The third thing is that Turkish Gin and Tonic made from local spirits and local tonic was very and dangerously drinkable. As we were all "all inclusive" I drank infeasibly large amounts of it. The tonic was more Schweppes than Britvic, so all was well.

The weather was mostly 30c+ and some bits of me are brown. I only got slight Turkish tummy. Result.

I was with my pal Graham who discovered a forced liking for vodka, there being no free whisky!

Friday 15 May 2009


I'm off for some. See you all in a week.

Wednesday 13 May 2009


The Business and Enterprise Committee (Bec) report has found “alarming evidence” that there may be serious problems caused by the dominance of the large pub companies. Well we all knew that didn't we, but now it's official?

The Bec found among other things, that the evidence from Punch Taverns and Enterprise Inns gave only a 'partial picture' or was 'positively false'. Appallingly it reveals that 67% of PubCo licensees are earning less than £15,000 a year, despite in some cases having a turnover of over half a million pounds. The Chairman of the committee said “There must be a legal framework that takes account of the imbalance of bargaining power between licensees and pubcos.” The Bec doesn't recommend the scrapping of the beer tie, but says that more detailed analysis of the market is required and that there is a need to protect regional brewers.

So what next? The Committee recommends that the Government refer the matter to the Competition Commission for action, but this could take between two and three years. There is an alternative view, favoured by CAMRA, that the operation of the beer tie could be referred to the Office of Fair Trading to deal with the matter more quickly. However, such is the damning picture painted by the Bec, that a full referral to the Competition Commission seems inevitable.

Tuesday 12 May 2009

Danny Boy

Daniel Thwaites has been brewing in Blackburn for 202 years. Their cask beers are starting to reappear more widely after a long (and most would say unsuccessful) love affair with nitrokeg. Now they are picking themselves up and getting over it. Good.

Though, as is common these days, it isn't actually called a mild, Thwaites have brewed a four per cent cask mild for May. I had some last night at the Bury Beer Festival Organising Meeting. Highwayman is rich, dark, chocolatey with decent roast malt and a creamy head. Most of us drank it.

Must have been all right then.

Monday 11 May 2009

Packing Flavour In

While out shopping with E in Manchester on Saturday, we nipped into the Micro Bar in the Arndale for a much needed refresher. The only pale beer was a horrible example of random phenols, roughly hewn into an approximation of beer, which had E grimacing and me advising her not to drink it. She didn't actually need that advice, as her mind was rapidly made up on that point. My choice was wiser, though a bit of a tongue twister. Brewdog "How to Dissappear Completely" was the odd name given to a very good beer. Chestnut brown in colour and despite an initially off-putting wet dog aroma, the beer itself was very enjoyable and intensely bitter, with C hops in abundance and a very full body for its strength - a mere 3.5%. My first half was rapidly followed by a second and then a pint, while E consoled herself with Kuppers Koelsch. It was good to see Brewdog using their undoubted skills at the weaker end of the spectrum.

We sat for half an hour or so, sipping beer and watching the astonishingly mixed international clientèle eating ethnic snacks (the Brazilian stuff looked really good). Great for beer, great for people watching, it's a good place. Go there if you can.

The horrible beer was Empire Brewing Shiver Me Timbers

Saturday 9 May 2009

Howard Town Brewery

I have been having a quiet week, but called in to the Angel after picking E up from the train. I was immediately advised by the bar staff to have Hope which was just on. It was pale and hoppy and nicely balanced. It's by Howard Town Brewery of Glossop, who brew some decent beers by and large.

I didn't take a photo of the pump clip and the HT web site hasn't been updated since 2007. What's that all about?

Glossop is in the Peak District. "Ale in Peak Condition". Geddit?

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Talk About Hoppy

At our CAMRA meeting last night I started on Phoenix White Monk, keeping a very special beer in reserve for my last pint. The beer? "Let There Be Hops."

Mallinsons - me - a big fan - has brewed this for Dave Szwejkowski (a renowned ticker also known as Dave Unpronounceable) in celebration of his 30th birthday. Described on the Mallinson's web site as "Dark blonde colour. Strong hop aroma, with a slightly sweet malt and balanced hop taste, with a long intense hop finish. Very moreish for its 5.3% ABV."

The description didn't do it justice. It was a hop monster of the first order. Some of our lot couldn't finish their pint. It grew on you, though one and a half was enough.

Lees Buy Punch Pubs

I predicted way back in March that Lees would buy more pubs.To prove the point they have bought a parcel of ten from the debt laden Punch Group. All are in the North West and are as yet un-named.

They will have been bought for cash too I suspect.

Tuesday 5 May 2009


Pubs are full of them. If you go to the right pubs that is and know that character in this sense means someone different and worth knowing. Someone who is different and not worth knowing is usually the pub equivalent of the "nutter on the bus". Sadly there are plenty of the latter too, but get out and about a bit and there is usually someone worthy of note if you keep your eyes (and ears) peeled. It's yet another thing that makes pubs interesting places.

My other "local" when not supping Lees in the THT is the Old(e) Boar's Head (Page 338 of the GBG) and there's one or two characters in there in the tea time crowd. One such is Wayne. So much so, there is a plaque on the wall at his usual spot. It's in the picture. Sorry about the photo quality.

I had my first session on Lees Coronation St Ale on Sunday. It was good.

Monday 4 May 2009

Mild in May

An early start on Saturday. Our Mild Campaign kicks off today. Report at Lees Brewery promptly for a 10.30 a.m. start. Pints of Brewer's Dark followed by the dry hopped (Goldings) version (Hopping Mad) didn't suck at all. It was interesting to compare and contrast. Both assuredly have their place. I was reminded that beer can be an excellent breakfast drink.

An hour at Lees, a quick thanks to the two lads who had got up early to look after us and off on the short coach journey to Heywood. Two more milds awaited us, plus for the unconvinced, the wheaty and hoppy White Tornado. Most of us stuck to mild and with Black Shadow and Monkeytown Mild on offer, it would have been bad form not to. Both were simply superb with the Monkeytown just edging it for me. And the thing is about mild, when it is in form, it slips down all too easily and don't believe it can't make you pissed. It can.

While some of the more hardy had another two pubs to go at in the afternoon, I opted out to keep sober for the presentation later that day of our Pub of the Year - The Baum in Rochdale. Kindly E drove me there, arriving as the bus disgorged a motley collection of - well - drunks. Continuing the mild theme I had that most rare of experiences. Yes I had a Mallinson's beer I wasn't so keen on. Marina Mild was dark and very intense. It was chewy, bitter, chocolatey with vine fruits and much more. It was just a little busy. I resisted the temptation for Sarah Hughes Ruby Mild too and after the presentation, joined Tyson for a wonderful occurrence of Phoenix Hopsack. I've never had a better sample of this wonderful hoppy beer. All too soon for me it was over. E, being the driver wouldn't join sundry drunks on a further Rochdale pub crawl. It was home and grub for us. After tea, a phone call from some vociferous and noisily pissed people reminded me that I was a wuss. I think Tyson was involved.

ROB CAMRA has a mild passport scheme where you can win a wonderful prize. Full details on the web site

Sunday 3 May 2009

Brauerei Witzgall

I received this rather nice photo from my mate Nick who lives in Franconia. It is of the bier keller in Schlammersdorf on the opening day of its new outdoor drinking year. The beer says Nick, is bitter, hoppy and one of the best in Germany.

He should know. He likes an hour out.

Click on the photo to enlarge.

Friday 1 May 2009

Punch Drunk

Worried about your pub? Well if it is owned by Punch Taverns, maybe you ought to be. The Punch Group owes its bankers £4.6 billion pounds, secured against its estate of 8,300 pubs. Now when it gets to huge amounts of zeros, I get a bit confused, but it seems to me that is an average debt of £554,000 per pub. No wonder they are screwing their publicans and selling pubs as fast as they can. Not that it will do them any good. As the London Evening Standard remarked the other day "The group has bought back £318 million of debt for a bargain £200 million in the past six months. At 60p in the pound, that either shows investors think the company is doomed, or that they are so strapped for cash they are happy to take what they can get."

How did all this arise I hear you ask, when at the beer orders, most pubs were owned by brewers and more or less debt free? Well, when the pub companies were set up, each pub was mortgaged to pay the breweries for the pubs they had to divest. When pub companies subsequently merged or were taken over, a little bit more was added to the mortgage, with the surplus being trousered by those that sold them. Repeat quite a few times, until we get where we are today. A massive bloody debt that is being paid by the PubCos tenants - and, of course, by their customers. This couldn't go on for ever. Something would happen to stop it. Well a few things have. All at once. They are running out of mugs to take their leases, people aren't visiting pubs and the estate isn't worth what it used to be.

If Punch goes bust, there will be a fire sale of pubs at realistic prices. These pubs then, unburdened by huge debt, might just start to make money again.

The market says the group is worth £237 million. Latest figures indicate they "only" own 7371 pubs, so the debt per pub is actually worse.